Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Little Bishop -- The Love Filled Heart 1 5 2010

St. Peter's Church -- Girard Avenue
Philadelphia, PA
The Tomb of St. John Neumann, CSSR (Redemptoris)

This is a very special feast day. For almost thirty years there was no priest closer to me than Msgr. James McGrath, priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. "The good Monsignor," as Philadelphians are want to say, was without doubt my most meaningful priest-friend. Jim was the priest assigned by then Archbishop of Philadelphia, John Cardinal Krol, to be the Vice Postulator for the process of canonization for one of the Cardinal's predecessors, John Neumann. Many were the dinners or car rides when I heard about the process of Bishop Neumann's canonization. Many were the insights of a man who had come to know this saint's soul. In each priest's life, like many laity, there tends to be a habit of saving things. Perhaps we call it "clutter." Yet for the priest, it is among this clutter there is or are one or two items or experiences that change the heart. My vicarious relationship with John Neumann through a ministerially-alive priest, even until the last few weeks of his life, is a genuine treasure that will always be a part of my "baggage." So, as I begin this reflection, I give thanks to God that while preparing to concelebrate Mass for a priest I did not know but whose position in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia demanded that I be present even though only the first week of my leadership at St. Joseph's Prep School in the city of Brotherly Love, a priest came up to be as I was vesting and said, "You must be new in Philadelphia." That was the beginning of an experience that was the beginning of pulling from my heart God's calling to leave the Society of Jesus to become a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, my hometown.

The readings for the liturgy celebrating this feast of St. John Neumann amplify the drive of the Corinthian reading from yesterday's liturgy honoring Elizabeth Ann Seton. The words of St. Paul raise one question: What single word best and most profoundly expresses God, who he is? The answer is simply one word: love. God is love!

So we who seek to live a genuine spiritual life based on the gospels, the life of Jesus, we must fully understand the meaning of love and how it is lived out in our lives. These words rest on my dresser to remind me each day that God is love: "To love another person is to see the face of God." This is truly what John Neumann lived. Remember this: this bishop of Philadelphia died while walking home from making a sick call to a parishioner. He was living his understanding of what it means to know God as love, the very God he met in anointing the forehead of the person who was critically ill.

Yesterday, as I prayed with the readings for today's liturgy, a powerful thought stopped me. Who are the people in my life who truly reflect the love of God. I thought of one particular couple who always are so loving and caring .... not only for their children and their families ... but for everyone they meet. They always radiate the love of God. Again, "To love another person is to see the face of God."

God's greatest proof of his love? Look in your mind at two events: the birth of Jesus and the death of Jesus. Here you find the greatest testimony of how intense, how faithful is the love of God for you. As you finish this day and every day of your life, think for just a few moments about the moments when you have encountered the face of God in others. Perhaps you could write a journal of these memories each evening. What a positive experience you would have at the end of each week. Imagine the treasury you would have at the end of just one year! And who would be the better for it? YOU, YOU, YOU!

Let me conclude with one of Msgr. McGrath's reminders: Because NEUMANN is German and pronounced NOI-MAHN, Bishop Neumann's name and the parishes that have him as their patron, pronounce the name in the German manner. When the Bishop was in Rome for the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception as dogma, the names of the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops attending were inscribed in the wall of St. Peter's Basilica. The Bishop of Philadelphia was there his name was carved in a block of marble as NEUMANN. He made a request that it be changed to NEWMAN because he had moved to the USA and had become an American!!! Thus the word NEUMAN never came from the lips of the Vice Postulator!!! He would kindly correct those who said NEUMANN, even though he himself was very proud of his mother German lineage!!! Just a little note of history.